Posts Tagged ‘White Bear Lake


“Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?” is Here

Exactly three weeks ago, my video “Where is the Water in White Bear Lake?” had its premiere. Some of you might recall my post over two years ago, when I first started filming for this project. The work actually began in the fall of 2011, when I requested and later received a grant from the Suburban Ramsey/Washington County Cable Commission to create a program about the low water levels in White Bear Lake, the centerpiece of my community.

When I first visited Minnesota over 25 years ago, I “discovered” and fell in love with the astonishingly beautiful and varied freshwater here. Later, after working in public health and contemplating what might be the most personally meaningful and impactful issue I could work on, I decided to focus on the sustainability of water. It’s critical for all creatures to survive and thrive, yet in so many ways and places it’s under threat. I saw the situation of White Bear Lake as an opportunity to learn about and explore different aspects of a water crisis in the making, and to engage others in this process as well.

Working on the video, I talked with scientists, attended presentations, studied maps, and was present for different hydrological monitoring activities. During the drilling of a well over 600 feet down into the Mount Simon aquifer, I witnessed a cross-section of geological layers progressively brought up by the drill. I felt humbled to see how interconnected we are to past millennia, through water.

As I talked with different people, I got a sense of the politics, social dynamics, and varieties of personal meaning the lake has for people locally and regionally. For me, working on the video was like spending precious time with an ailing friend. While recognizing how the face of the lake has changed, I’ve continued to feel that White Bear Lake has a unique and delightful spirit. I was happy to have an excuse to spend time together. In fact, I typically had great fun when I was out by the lake with my video camera, capturing images of the water and meeting new people who were open and generous with their thoughts, stories, and time.

As I gathered more and more information—and hours and hours of footage—I struggled greatly trying to decide how to tell this story. I wondered how much technical and political and social information to provide, how much of my own voice (both figuratively and literally) to include, and how to end my story in the midst of an evolving situation. During months of “writer’s block,” and months chipping away at editing, I was helped along by feedback and encouragement from friends, associates, and a documentary filmmakers group I belong to. A friend willing to help with camera work, and others who provided sound and animation expertise all generously lent their time and skills when there were things I couldn’t manage on my own. Now I’m relieved to find myself at the other end. Completion is sweet.

Yet, the completion of my video is also what I hope will be the beginning of a shared conversation among us, and new or expanding relationship between you, water, and White Bear Lake.


under Manitou bridge

I’m posting this painting largely because I wanted to share something about the experience of painting it.

Manitou Island lies in the middle of White Bear Lake, MN, and is connected by an old wooden bridge. When I was there with a painting class last week, I set up under the bridge partly to avoid the bright afternoon sunlight, and partly because I was drawn to the way that light cast a glow on the bridge’s foundation.

As I painted, I heard many kinds of bird calls. There were swallows flying about, but I also heard an unusual clacking sound I didn’t recognize. As the afternoon went on, the source of the sound became visible. A small bird I’d never seen before picked its way toward me through the grasses, and hopped from rock to rock in front of me. Her body was upright, with little in the way of wing or tail feathers – kind of like a partridge. As she moved about I soon saw that she was not alone – at least five fuzzy black chicks were hovering in the thicker reeds and grasses and following her down concealed trails. One bold chick came out into the open with his mom, right in front of me, following in her footsteps.

I was mystified as to what this bird could be, but after several days of searching, identified it as a Virginia rail – elusive birds that frequent marshes.

One of the reasons to paint outdoors is to experience things we wouldn’t otherwise. Standing in one place for hours at a time, Nature is always making itself known, and has a way of coming out to meet us. Most often this is through the intensity of the elements, or through insects that must be fended off. Or the evolution of clouds in the sky. Or sometimes it’s times  like this – animals never before seen. I love being surprised by what appears.
under Manitou Br


New water project

From this blog or otherwise, you probably know I have a special interest in water. This week I started video production on a new documentary about regional issues of water use, that I’m guessing will have a lot to say about our consciousness and management of water in Minnesota.

Right here in the northeast Twin Cities metro area, the water levels in many lakes have been steadily decreasing in recent years to historical lows. The reasons for this have not been clear. Around White Bear Lake, the situation has obviously impacted residents and businesses on the lake. But it’s also seriously compromised the lake’s recreational features, likely affected local tourism, and been a major downer for a community whose identity is centered around this beautiful and historical body of water.

Moonrise over White Bear Lake, January 2012

This past year city, county, state and federal governments collaborated to support research by the US Geological Survey (USGS) to determine the cause of White Bear’s lake level declines. The findings to date were presented at a White Bear Lake Conservation District meeting this week.

One of my most formative experiences when first coming to Minnesota was taking a limnology field course at Lake Itasca, and I’ve been something of a water geek ever since. I’m still trying to get a handle on all the USGS study findings, but am fascinated by the methods they used – sampling wells to look at isotopic markers of different water sources, using a submarine EcoMapper to sample water quality along the lake bottom to find indications of seepage, examining well pumping volumes over time, etc. – to figure out what may be going on.

If you’re interested, you can soon view the findings at the USGS website. In a nutshell, the data indicate that our recent decline in lake levels are associated with greater pumping from high capacity wells (commercial, municipal, and irrigation) that has come with increased development in nearby cities. To a lesser extent, the decline also reflects a decrease in precipitation over the last several years. It’s pretty clear that our water use and water bodies in the area are directly linked through the Prairie du Chien aquifer below us.

What happens next will be the main subject of this film. I’m especially interested in capturing the community and planning discussions, as well as any policies and/or actions that may result.

This week at the Conservation District meeting, working with the videography and production assistance of Tim Splinter, we were able to capture a range of questions from the Board and residents during the meeting itself, as well as additional comments from local residents, a business owner, and a civil engineer. The meeting room itself was packed.

Among the people we talked with was Fletcher Driscoll, a distinguished hydrogeologist and lakeshore resident. His comments mirror the feeling I have that we may be entering a new era in our relationship to water here in Minnesota.


Prayers for Healing

Well, I’m finally to the point where I can show you this – the video I’ve been working on in some shape or form over the last couple years! I’ll let the video speak for itself, and welcome your comments. In this post, however, I’d just like to say a few words about the process of producing a video like this.

This isn’t my first experience producing. In particular, in 1998 I served as Executive Producer of the public television program Town Meeting: A Community Response to Sexual Violence when I was working at the Minnesota Department of Health. In many ways this current project reflects my own evolution from that experience on a personal and professional level.

Since ‘Town Meeting,” which dealt with the effects of sexual violence and the need for prevention at the community level, I have continued to learn a lot about the things that lead to pain and harm in our society. I’ve also learned from other people, from research, and from my own experience about things that are especially important in helping us stay healthy and weather life’s challenges.

Part of what I’ve come to believe is that violence, abuse and despair cannot be prevented or overcome without healing.  Feeling connected, cared for and at peace can happen in many places and many ways. The Healing Ministry that’s described in this video is one avenue I’ve found that offers access to these things in a thoughtful and powerful way.

As a member of the Healing Team, I worked with the group off and on over the course of about a year  to examine the ways we understood and might communicate about this kind of ministry. We talked about our own experiences, the effects, concerns and fears we’d observed, and language that seemed to best capture something that ultimately transcends words. I also had conversations and meetings with the church leadership, to understand their views and seek their approval for the project.

When it came time to start filming, I started asking people who came for prayers about their experience. The people you see in the film were the only ones I interviewed – mainly because I found what each of them said, and said so eloquently, was all that was needed. I confess I feel that throughout this process there was a certain grace at work, consistent with the ministry itself.  Filming and editing took place over about 6 months total, with the final product completed this past summer. Once the video itself was done, there were legal/procedural issues that took additional time and energy, and which, while trying, offered still more lessons about production and opportunities to experience the Spirit at work.

For the Town Meeting, I had a producer, director/editor, crew, television studio, and contracting organization to work with.  For this project, I was flying solo – producing, filming, lighting, sound, interviewing, editing.. the whole deal.  While it’s been a long process, it’s also been very gratifying to use and develop my skills through this project, to build on what I’ve learned and experienced, and to share that with you!

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